5/26/2016

Downfall For Males


PARIS — With its guffawing masculine hilarity, the National Assembly, France’s lower house of Parliament, would not be put to shame by the most boisterous American state legislature. 

The marble-and-velvet setting may be more elegant, but the rowdy laughter says the same thing: Men dominate.

Over the last week, that male world has been shaken. 

The Assembly’s vice president, Denis Baupin, was forced to resign after several women came forward publicly with accusations that he had sexually harassed numerous female colleagues for years.

One said Mr. Baupin had pushed her against a wall, grabbed one of her breasts and tried to force a kiss. 

Others said he had sent explicit text messages. Another said he had chased her around a desk. Still another, that he had pinched her buttocks.

The Paris prosecutor has announced a criminal investigation. 

Mr. Baupin, 53, a representative from Paris and a rising star of the Green Party, has complained about a “setup” and has threatened to sue the media outlets that broke the story.

Nonetheless, the charges have set off soul-searching over whether anything has changed in France since the downfall of a former International Monetary Fund boss, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, after a New York hotel housekeeper accused him of assault in 2011.

That, it seems, did nothing to stop Mr. Baupin. But in the country where even the word for “bawdy joke” — gauloiserie — recalls the ancestral homeland, Gaul, there are indications that this time some things may be different.

On the one hand, Mr. Baupin’s behavior was an open secret. Since the allegations have become public, ranking Green Party members have shamefacedly acknowledged knowing of Mr. Baupin’s bad behavior for years. 

Women knew never to get in an elevator alone with him or go to his office unaccompanied. They nicknamed him “the Octopus.”

The men were apparently unfazed, however. “Ah, so he’s started up again?” a male Green Party member said nonchalantly after a shocked woman recounted an assault against her in 2011, according to the news website Mediapart.

Yet at the time of his arrest in New York, Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who was widely seen as a contender for president, had plenty of defenders. “Nobody has been killed,” Jack Lang, a former Socialist culture minister, had said.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn, known as DSK, defended himself in a French court with claims that he was merely a “libertine” pursuing an alternative lifestyle. (He later settled out of court for what was reportedly a substantial sum.)

Even if few male French politicians have stepped up to denounce Mr. Baupin, nobody is defending him, either. 

The prominent right-leaning philosopher Alain Finkielkraut grumbled on the radio that “France is Americanizing itself in a hurry,” but added that he condemned “unseemly actions.”

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